Watching sea turtles come ashore in Oman
It is high tide. With a group of people we’re scanning the sea for dark silhouettes of sea turtles that want to lay their eggs on the beach. The sun has just vanished behind the horizon and waves glisten under the light of the moon. And then it happens. A giant sea turtle comes ashore pushed by waves on her back. She is bigger than I expected and much more impressive than all other turtles that I’ve seen in films. But hey, this is my turtle.
Slowly but persistently
I can’t explain how much excitement her presence on the beach brings to me. I cheer inside, but feel helpless when I see her struggling over the sand. Should I encourage her, give a push in the right direction or just stand still?
With her flippers, the animal drags her cumbersome body through the soft sand. Slowly but persistently she pulls forward while I watch her from a distance. At times she pauses carefully scoping out her spot or looks hesitantly around. But after every break she picks up her pace again and continues with as much perseverance as before.
When the sea turtle is a little way up the dry sandy part of the beach, she starts digging. She begins to fling away loose sand, digs a shallow pit and rotates her body on the ground. After it’s complete, she continues digging a small cavity using her cupped rear flippers as shovels. Her shield that glistened beautifully by the water is now dull from dust.
Into a deep trance
Then for a moment nothing happens at all. The turtle lies like a statue in her nest and glazes in the distance like she’s falling into a deep trance. Tears seem to flow from her eyes. For a moment I doubt if she will continue her work. It’s known from sea turtles that they build false nests or abandon it if they feel threatened. But then, with a deep sigh, she puts her head down on the sand and drops her eggs one by one in the nesting cavity. She groans occasionally with a low humming voice or exhales with a recurring sound. Nesting is exhausting work.
When the sea turtle has finished laying her eggs the sand flies around again. It looks like she wants to disguise her nest in dust clouds. Then she drags herself back to the sea and disappears between the waves without ever looking back . Only her trail on the wet sand is still visible.
Sea turtle hatchlings
About two months after the eggs have been laid, the little sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest. In large groups they tumble over the beach. I have to admit that I find them looking a bit funny with their large flippers and small curved shields. However, it doesn’t hinder them. The little ones storm toward the coast line at full speed and fight their way through the rolling waves into the open sea.
Unfortunately, most end up helpless and lost. From the moment they crawl out of the nest, birds hang in the air to pick them off the beach. Crabs line up along the shoreline and hungry predatory fish await their arrival in the water. Not to mention the balls of tar and plastic in the sea that make them sick and die.
Little sea turtle hatchlings have a tough life. Only 1 out of 1,000 babies grow into an adult turtle. That’s only one turtle in 10 litters of hard-working turtle mothers.
Spotting sea turtles in Oman
The critically endangered hawksbill turtle, the green sea turtle, the loggerhead turtle, the leatherback turtle and the olive Ridley turtle are found in Oman’s water. Most come ashore on the soft sandy beaches of Ras al Hadd and Ras al Jinz, but you can also spot them in Dhofar and on the islands of Masirah and Daymaniyat. The leatherback turtle doesn’t nest on land.
The nesting of sea turtles is one of the most extraordinary events to experience. The breeding season is in early summer, from May to August. You can pick a random beach and be lucky. But most turtle beaches are closed to the public to protect the endangered animals. To visit them a permit from the Ministry of Environment is required.
It’s therefore easier and better to go with a guide. Your hotel can arrange it for you.
The best places to stay in Ras al Hadd are the Turtle Beach Resort and the popular Ras al Hadd Guesthouse with beautiful cabins on the beach. Would you rather sleep in a tent? The Turtle Reserve in Sur rents out beautiful and comfortable tents.
Help save the turtle
Oman has set up a special protection program to protect the turtle population. When you visit an area where turtles nest, stick to these rules.
- Do not drive over the sandy beaches, do not picnic or BBQ and do not put a tent or umbrella on the beach.
- Turtles are very sensitive to light and sound. They are quickly disrupted or lose sense of navigation. Therefore turn off your headlights and do not use a flash when shooting. Make sure your phone is at a standstill and talk softly.
- Do not touch the turtles, the nests and the eggs. Do not chase the animals. Keep distance.
- Avoid spreading strong odours. Don’t bring food to the beach and don’t light a cigarette in the animal’s habitat.
- Do not leave any waste. Plastic, balloons, rope and fishing lines are especially dangerous. The sea turtles get entangled in them or see it as food.
- Do you see a turtle floating while he tries his best to go down? Or is he covered in barnacles? Then pick it up and take it to the Turtle Reserve. The young turtle on the above photo, found in the sea near Dubai, has survived after treatment.